I wrote an article in the past outlining some of the ways viewing pornography could be altering one’s brain. The idea with that article was to appeal to the better sense of those who spend their time in this disgusting activity. It was an attempt to also provide some possible empirical explanations for why they feel “hooked on porn.” May be after learning what they were doing to their brains, pornography addicts may take positive steps towards getting rid of this habit. However, as I think about this now, I find this approach to appeal to the selfish desires of the pornography consumer. In an attempt to get such a person to give up pornography, I was giving reasons that ultimately provide benefits for the individual behind the screen. Interestingly, a recent study examining Christian discourse in the anti-pornography narrative identified three phases in how Christians framed their opposition to pornography between 1956 and 2010:
- It is against the bible;
- It is harmful to others;
- It is harmful to oneself.
The progression through these phases is proposed to be a form of secularization of religion, as religious leaders begin to invoke non-religious arguments to bolster their opposition to pornography. Whether such a proposition is valid from an Islamic point of view is another topic of discussion. However, given the rampant narcissism of our modern times, it is not surprising that we have an increasingly more prominent discussion about how pornography is addictive, changes the brain, and can lead to sexual dysfunction for the viewer. Meanwhile, the objectified human beings facing the camera are far removed from the pornography addict’s conscience. This is not how the Beloved ﷺ would have dealt with this issue.
A young man came to the Beloved ﷺ asking him to make zina (extramarital sexual relations) permissible for him. This man loved sleeping with women and felt overwhelmed by his desires. The Beloved ﷺ responded by asking whether he would accept what he does with other women to be done by other men to his mother, his aunt, his sister, and his immediate female relatives. The young man’s answer was a vehement rejection of such a proposition. The Beloved ﷺ in turn said to him that just as he would not accept men doing to his mother or sister what he wanted to do to other women, other men would also not accept him doing to their mothers or sisters what he was asking the Beloved ﷺ to make permissible for him. The young man then asked the Beloved ﷺ to pray for him. After he left the Beloved ﷺ’s gathering he remarked that when he went to request an exception for zina to be permissible for him, he desired nothing more than it. But after his conversation with the Beloved ﷺ and the prayer he received at the end, he detested nothing more than it.
Sadly, for a people who always preach about modesty and chastity, as a collective Ummah we have really failed to implement what we preach about. We sound very hollow when we speak about Islam granting women rights and freeing women from sexual exploitation by men, when we happen to lead the pack in pornography viewership. It turns out that you can clear your Internet history all you want, but Google still keeps tabs on you. The top 10 countries searching for sex-related sites as of 2010 were:
- Saudi Arabia
Yes, it is not a dream. We Muslims hold 6 of the top 8 positions and 4 of the top 5. When taken in relation to the number of people worldwide who have Internet access, and the number of internet users in these Muslim states, it gives a scary sense of how much pornography had to be viewed for us to take over these top spots. More sad than this are the details of these searches. Muslim states lead in animal sex terms, homosexual acts, and child pornography searches. 70% of files exchanged between Saudi teenagers over phones contained pornography. Arabic, the language of the Quran, comes up as the second most used language when searching for numerous pornography genres.
It is no longer sufficient to speak about how pornography changes the brain or the damage it inflicts on society. The Prophetic way of dealing with this is to literally place you, the pornography addict, right at the centre of it by turning it all on you. On a side note, it is peculiar that more than a couple of those Muslims states in this list happen to also be the ones where much of the media reports about hijab/niqab obsessiveness come from. It would be interesting to see a statistic correlating the level of hijab enforcement via government regulation with the level of pornography viewership. Given how one of the most homophobic countries, Pakistan, happens to also have the number one spot for homosexual pornography viewership in the world, it would not be surprising to see a positive correlation between men’s hijab obsession and their level of pornography consumption. (This should not be taken as something against a religious injunction. It is about a religious injunction being utilized for ulterior motives by men.)
For one to engage in viewing pornography, they must be in a state of mind where they have no regard for women, including their own mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunts. If you are a regular viewer of pornography, you might want to place your own mother, sister, or daughter in that scene. The interesting thing about the Prophetic way of dealing with this issue is that we do not have to appeal to evident prohibitions in the Quran. Instead, that image of sexual gratification from viewing pornography and living a fantasy has to be exchanged with something anyone having any level of dignity left would find extremely repulsive. That woman, that human being who is being abused, is drug addicted, is emotionally disconnected, is suffering from symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder as a consequence of the ordeal she has to go through to produce those few moments you get to see her on screen, is not any woman. She is your mother, or your sister, or your daughter. Not only that, but your neighbour is downloading her latest video right as you read these words. Too much of a visual? It is exactly what you are doing to someone else.
This problem is not based in addiction to pornography. Addiction is a corollary. The real root of the problem is in how one sees this issue as a whole, which in reality stems from how sex and zina are also viewed. If the immediate reaction to pornography is not utter disgust, there is a problem. Viewing pornography is as pathetic a state as one can put themselves in. If you are one who does this, you might want to take an objective look at yourself. Imagine yourself having an out-of-body experience and look at yourself from above as you view pornography and experience sexual arousal from flashing lights on a screen. All alone in your room gratifying yourself as you contribute to the prostitution, sex trafficking, sexual slavery, bestiality, and child pornography industries. It does not matter that you may not be “into these things” or “only view free videos.” The very act of viewing any genre of pornography, whether it is free or paid, contributes to these predatory industries as a whole. It gains support from otherwise dignified human beings who choose to put themselves in the most pathetic of states. One does not have to be a Muslim to find this repulsive. But for one to uphold a religion that is supposed to be about the Fitra and returning to what makes us human, it sure screams volumes of hypocrisy to turn another human being who is someone’s mother, aunt, daughter, or sister into a mere tool of imaginary scenes that have no basis in reality, all for the sake of pathetic lonely moments of self-gratification.
p.s. For those who like etymology, the word “pornography” originates from the Greek word “pornographos,” meaning “writing about prostitutes.” Taken literally in modern terms, it is the presentation of prostitutes through graphics. In other words, all those who view pornography are engaging in a form of prostitute solicitation.
p.p.s. I realize that some may find the language a bit too confrontational and condescending. There are plenty of resources available that use a softer approach. For me, this is one topic that immensely bothers and disgusts me. Even as I write about it I can sense my facial expression of disgust. The point here is not to be condescending towards those who view pornography. Rather, it is to have them grow enough disgust towards it that they elevate above this pathetic industry without feeling trapped by the porn-addiction narrative. Nevertheless, for those interested in more, you can read the following articles or watch Shaykh Hamza Yusuf’s lecture titled “The Social Costs of Pornography”:
UPDATE (March 20, 2014): A friend of mine has turned my attention to an article by Josh Shahryar that appeared in the Express Tribune Blogs on June 15, 2013 titled “Why are Pakistanis such Gay Porn addicts?“. The article is about the statistics used to conclude that Pakistan, and Muslim countries in general, are at the top of pornography searching countries in the world. It turns out that the matter is not as simple as this. The list of countries obtained is accurately based on Google Trends. But Google Trends is not in itself an accurate measure of pornography consumption. The reason for this is due to the assumptions one makes when using Google Trends. For one, not everyone who views pornography relies on Google for it. According to Shahryar, those who are regular pornography consumers bookmark their favourite sites and only use Google occasionally when they’re seeking variety. He supports this by checking the top pornography sites and then examining the list of their most popular countries, which shows Pakistan much lower on the list. I invite you to read his article as it sheds important light on the inherent racism utilized by Western media to portray Muslims, especially Pakistanis in the worst light possible. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the main point I was addressing, which is that we have a problem, and although one way of investigating Muslim consumption of pornography may place us lower on the list, another method does put us on top. The complexity of this should not be used to minimize this issue or sweep it under the rug.